Who will be in charge of the Humber's Brexit cash?

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 7 Mar 2019

Brexit money could be coming the Humber’s way – but who will be in control of it?

Parliamentary correspondent Patrick Daly looks at those being hotly tipped.

If Brexit was about taking control of our money, then voters in the Humber look set to get what they wanted.

Currently, the UK pays its money to Brussels and (some of) the cash, via different European Union funding pots, makes its way back to communities in Britain

Brexit, as the Leave campaign emphasised, will allow the UK government to cut out the middle man in future and allocate the money as it sees fit.

Ministers have already identified the existing Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) structures as the best way of making sure this new-found allocating power is put into the right hands, meaning a beefed-up role for the Humber LEP and the Greater Lincolnshire LEP.

As a result, both LEPs have been reviewing how they operate to ensure they are in good shape to get the millions of pounds of investment to where it would best serve.

Read more: Grimsby highlighted as £1.6b Stronger Towns Fund unveiled

Former food magnate Lord Christopher Haskins, chairman of the Humber LEP, is heavily rumoured to be preparing to stand down once the reshaping of the LEP – which currently counts the four Humber councils as members – has been completed. He is reported to have told friends that, at age 81, he is ready to hand over the reins to a successor. The crossbench peer has been head of the organisation – an unsalaried role – since its 2012 inception.

Whoever that new person is will have even more powers than Lord Haskins, given they will have control on the purse strings of the Humber’s Brexit cash. Here is a look at the runners and riders for the top job.

South bank candidates

Talk to MPs in northern Lincolnshire and they are of one mind when considering who the future chairman of the Humber LEP should be – the successful candidate, in their eyes, should hail from the south bank of the estuary. Any of the following could secure the backing of the business and political worlds.

David Ross, entrepreneur

A familiar name for those in Grimsby, the Carphone Warehouse co-founder and millionaire has been one of those driving the town deal which is seeking to regenerate the waterfronts to make Grimsby a more attractive place to live, work and learn.

He is no stranger to the LEP either, having been vice-chairman when it was first founded, before stepping down in 2013. Mr Ross has also been part of big-money publicly-run projects, including serving on the board of Wembley Stadium and getting involved with the planning of the 2012 Olympic Games.

The question is whether Mr Ross has time for a further commitment on top of his other business and public sector ventures and whether, as a Conservative Party donor, he would be seen as a partisan figure. On the other hand, he is said to boast a phonebook full of top government names as a result of his Tory leanings.

Darren Cunningham, UK Director of Phillips 66 and general manager of the Humber Refinery

Another one with strong northern Lincolnshire credentials, Mr Cunningham began his career in 1985 at Humber Refinery and returned in 2017 to take the top job at the South Killingholme oil refinery. He had previously worked in New Jersey in the USA before that.

Respected in his field after a 30-plus year career and now in charge of one of the south bank’s biggest businesses, Mr Cunningham would be a popular choice among business leaders. He already sits on the LEP’s board as a member, so would know how it operates from the off.

The concern is whether, with a demanding role at Phillips 66, he would be able to secure time away from his day job to represent the Humber in Westminster.

With his employer having a global presence, there is also no guarantee that he will remain in the region long-term.

Simon Bird, Humber director for Associated British Ports

In overall charge of all four Humber ports, including the south bank three of Grimsby, Immingham and Goole, Mr Bird has an understanding of how each corner of the region works.

Already engaging with ministers and Whitehall officials on Brexit, with ABP’s support for free ports and working to ensure Immingham was designated as one of the emergency no-deal ports, Mr Bird would be comfortable with the political side of the job.  Like Mr Cunningham at Phillips 66, he also sits on the LEP board, which would be allow him to hit the ground running.

Again, whether he could find sufficient cover in his current role to donate time to being Humber LEP chairman remains to be seen. And in some circles, ABP is already seen as a powerful enough company without its Humber director also occupying the top chair at the LEP.

Read more: Council leader wants Humber unity after Yorkshire devolution deal snub

North bank candidates

It is not unfeasible that the LEP could continue to be run by a figure based in Hull or the East Riding of Yorkshire – just as Baron Haskins of Skidby has over the past six years.

Alan Johnson, former MP for Hull

There is talk on the north shores of the Humber of attempting to coax Alan Johnson, a former Hull MP of 20 years’ standing, to take up the LEP chairmanship. Given his glittering resume, having served as home secretary and health secretary during the Tony Blair years, he would certainly know his way round Whitehall. His Humber credentials were strengthened in the role he played in acquiring compensation for fishermen who lost their livelihoods after the Cod Wars and he also helped push the Humber as a possible base for the offshore wind industry.

It is not clear, however, whether the 68-year-old, who only stepped down from Parliament in 2017, would want the role given he has already taken up a fresh post with a Hull-based health construction company and is signed-up to write more books.

There would also be some who feel uncomfortable having a Labour Party stalwart at the helm.

Stephen Parnaby, leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council

The longest-standing council leader in all of Yorkshire will be standing down at the local elections, completing a 23-year stint as Conservative Party leader at County Hall in Beverley.

A board member of the LEP in his role as council leader, he was recently appointed deputy chairman – a move some saw as an indication of his aspirations to become the number one when Lord Haskins stands down.

A well-known figure in the region, Councillor Parnaby would have the local connections, including among business heads, to get the job done in terms of working collaboratively and identifying where investment is required.

Not everyone is keen, however, on a soon-to-be-former East Yorkshire council leader taking charge of the Brexit cash, expressing a fear that the money will find itself allocated to the north bank more often than the south. And, having been a councillor in the region since 1979, others argue that the reform of the LEP should bring with it a fresh face and someone with business experience to represent the organisation.

Sally Booker, Head of North Sea UK Ports at P&O Ferries

Originally hailing from Kent, Ms Booker has one of the top jobs at P&O Ferries and has had a presence at the Port of Hull since 2010. She has impressed business folk and politicians as president of the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce – a fact not likely to be missed by those choosing Lord Haskin’s successor.

And, in a Humber business community often seen to be dominated by male bosses, to have a woman representing the region would feel like a welcome step into the future and a vote for equality.

Should she want the job, she will face the same issue as others who have major roles in their companies – convincing their employers to allow them to spend time away from their day jobs to represent the Humber LEP at events and meetings across the region and the country.

Read more: Humber and Lincolnshire LEPs given ultimatum: 'Sort out dispute or lose access to funding'

And another thing…

The issue of the geographies of the LEPs remains unresolved. As reported by the Telegraph, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has told councils they can only sit under the jurisdiction of one LEP.

North East Lincolnshire Council (NELC) and North Lincolnshire Council currently are represented by both the Humber and Greater Lincolnshire LEPs. While NELC is happy to move solely to be with the Humber, North Lincolnshire is less satisfied with that solution – and Greater Lincolnshire is keen to hold onto the region and its industrial bases of Killingholme and Scunthorpe.

The Greater Lincolnshire LEP has poised more “collaborative” working between it and the Humber – code for a merger, according to some – while the Humber LEP would prefer a cleaner resolution.

According to the minutes of the last Humber board meeting, it is considering asking the Secretary of State to make the decision for the pair, given the longstanding stalemate. It is the last geographical dispute in the country among the LEPs to be left unsolved.

And not only is Lord Haskins said to be preparing to stand down in the Humber, Ursula Lidbetter, his equivalent at the Lincolnshire LEP, has also announced she will be moving on. It is all change at the LEPs in 2019.



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